Reading In Between The Rice
TL;DR Hoshun’s greatest strength is its air-flown produce and proteins. The restaurant's “light on taste, heavy on quality” approach is an interesting and bold gamble. I found that sushi is currently stronger than the Kaiseki dishes.
It took a while to get here, but I believe that most Malaysians are now familiar with the ebb and flow of an omakase experience at a true blue sushiya. Our growing fascination and admiration for Japanese cuisine has given rise to the growing number of high-end sushi restaurants (edomae or otherwise) around town. Our appetite for Japanese food cannot be satiated, and the omakase flame shows little signs of whittling down.
As we begin to return to some semblance of normalcy due to COVID-19 shenanigans, new restaurants are still popping up on the radar. New restaurants like Hoshun over in Damansara Heights. Branded as a sushi kaiseki restaurant, Hoshun is attempting to do something rather ambitious in the upper echelons of Japanese dining, combining two usually separate disciplines into one restaurant.
To pull this off, Hoshun puts two ex-Ginza Sushimasa chefs under one roof. They both hail from Sendai and are veterans of the sushi world with experience working together. Specially created artworks by local artist Red Hong Yi, featured at the sushi counter and in one of the dining rooms, honour the chefs' hometown with depictions of nature. Other areas are made to simulate a modern Japanese sushiya, with a more or less intimate seating space at the counter, in the rooms (private or otherwise), and at the small bar.
I recently attended a media review and got to try the full monty called Hasu (Japanese for sacred lotus), or more fittingly known as the "Hoshun Experience" (RM988++). Diners can opt for either kaiseki, which is essentially Japanese haute cuisine created to reflect the bounties of the current season, sushi, or have a combination of both. The Hoshun experience marries both for a hefty 13-course meal. And when I say hefty, I mean it.
5 Appetisers 「前菜5種」
Things started off swimmingly with the kaiseki part of the menu arriving first. I was famished, and this light platter of springtime treasures was a pretty reminder of the simplicity of Japanese cuisine. There was the incredibly tart shark cartilage with plum, which was too tart, somewhat harsh and too crunchy for my liking. The saba, lightly simmered in dashi, saved my taste buds with a gentle umami lull and fresh greenness from the spinach.
Tokushima tomatoes freshened the palate with a lightly tart and juicy bite, which then helps the ika shine with its chewy texture. Saving the best for last was a small, lightly briny oyster. A fruity sparkling junmai (Shichiken Yamanokasumi) kept in line with the dish's emphasis on lightness.
Sashimi was served next, the first dish of the sushi part of the menu. The hotate was lightly sweet with a meaty, creamy texture. With its lovely raw-torched contrast, the Bonito tataki had a lovely smoky finish that jived nicely with the wine. Kawahagi, a mild-tasting white-meat fish similar to fugu, was featured with miso mixed with fish liver to give the dish a much-needed umami punch.
For the yakimono section of the kaiseki menu, the chef chose a Japanese lobster topped with crab roe sauce. The shellfish may have been medium-sized, but its sweetness was brought up a notch thanks to the sauce's creamy flavour. The sauce dealt a naturally-flavoured curveball on the palate that I rather enjoyed, while the char of the lobster shell adds a sultry smoky aroma.
A Yamamoto Pure Black junmai ginjo was chosen to pair with this dish. The sake from Akita Prefecture had a clean rice taste with a mildly long fruity finish, complementing this grilled entry.
We were served an incredibly clean-tasting, simmered grouper fillet topped with a piece of turnip and yuzu zest next. The dashi was relatively thick and oily with a mild roasted quality that helped introduce flavour to that tender turnip. The choice to pair this with a Gassan junmai ginjo, which has a sweet and fruity taste, was fair.
It was at this point in the meal that I began to notice a repeating trend. Thus far, all the dishes served thus far were heavily reliant on the sum of their parts, in other words, ingredients. The seasoning used for everything was light, and ageing was kept to a minimum. Salt was present, but never the star. It was so far a very clean eating experience.
On paper, this sounded tremendous. In execution, it was good but not tremendous. The crunch of the deep-fried nori exterior was mighty satisfying, but the uni used here leaned more towards a creamy-sweet rather than a creamy-salty. This equates to a more mineral flavour, which, while good on its own, needs a salty-savoury agent to really spoil the palate.
This was truly special and is undoubtedly my favourite dish of the night. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. On this plate lies an exceptionally light and refreshing ensemble of spring greens. The vibrancy on the plate, oh so refined and bursting with energy, results from the terroir. Adding hokkigai clam was an excellent way to balance out that garden medley with a sweet taste of the sea. Everything about this dish just felt wholesome and fresh, a fantastic rendition of Japanese spring produce brought to life with a dash of ponzu.
To cleanse our palate before the sushi course, we were offered a seaweed plum sauce temaki as part of the vinegared course. This hand roll is sushi chef Murakami's speciality; it was precisely the same as I remembered it all those years ago having it at Ginza Sushimasa. It's a crunchy, daikon ribbon-filled, sour treat that's incredibly refreshing.
Letting these light and bright flavours shine was the pairing choice, a Senkin Modern Muku junmai daiginjo. This sharp and fruit-forward sake had a significant heft to it in the mouth, riffing on these lighter dishes with its own umami qualities from the polished rice.
Seven Pieces of Special Seasonal Sushi「特選旬の鮨7」
This was the strongest part of the meal. I must give credit where credit is due, in that the transition from kaiseki to sushi was so seamless in flavour that it felt as if only one chef was behind every dish. Although both chef Tanaka and Murakami hail from different specialities, this tight integration and apparent focus on the quality ingredients was evident from start to finish. It's Hoshun's signature flavour, so to speak.
The shari at Hoshun is made from Haenuki rice seasoned with a mixture of white and red vinegar. In execution, Murakami's shari is significantly light with only the faintest acidity from the vinegar detectable. Doing so puts the spotlight on the neta, meaning the fish plays an essential role in your enjoyment of the overall sushi experience.
We were served seven pieces of sushi, but the standouts for me were the botan ebi, ankimo, hotaru ika, otoro, and uni. Creamy and meaty with a punch of natural ocean sweetness in one bite, the botan ebi had a superb finish that lasted throughout the whole mouthful. Ankimo with narazuke (Nara-style sake-infused pickles) had its fatty, intense flavour balanced by a tart alcoholic presence bound by roasted seaweed. The firefly squid was fresh and piquant, topped with ginger for a slightly spicy and creamy finish.
The otoro was 20 seconds of pure pleasure. Surprisingly, the lightly vinegared rice still managed to briefly show up amongst all that waves of flavour. The buttery, clean, briny taste of the uni gunkanmaki was also superb. Minimal manipulation allowed the sea urchin to shine, with the lingering taste of roasted seaweed sealing the deal.
Complementing the sushi course was a Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé 2018. Yes, French white wine was chosen over sake. This light, dry, and somewhat acidic wine hold its own, but I found it stopped short of promoting the sushi's natural flavours. I would have preferred a slightly sweet, mildly dry junmai daijingo, but hey, that may be just me.
In line with every other course I've tasted, even the kamameshi, cooked with akamutsu (rosy sea bass), bamboo shoot, burdock, and away, was virtually unseasoned save for the natural tastes of the ingredients. The fish itself was fatty with a distinctive oiliness, which helped to flavour the earthy burdock and young bamboo shoot. The addition of awabi and uni completely dominates the dish with their respective flavours of the sea.
Such a delicate dish calls for a delicate sake, and Sohomare's tokubestu junmai fits the bill. Served cold, the crips and fresh Koji notes accentuates the dish dominant seafood flavours without overpowering the lighter, earthier notes.
Apologies, but I do not have a photo of the wanton dish served that night. It was a simple, light crab soup with a single meatball. The broth was incredibly soft with a hint of shellfish, and it did an adequate job closing the savoury part of this extensive menu.
The closing tune to the night was a slice of Shizuoka melon, Setoka orange, and red bean wagashi paired with umeshu. Japanese fruits have an almost near-perfect track record when it comes to satisfaction, so I'll leave that up to your imagination. The wagashi, on the other hand, was very satisfyingly chewy. Smooth and slightly sweet, the thin and glutinous skin was an excellent contrast to the red bean filling inside this traditional Japanese confectionary. The umeshu, which was decently sweet and slightly tart, is a de facto choice for dessert pairing, doing its job admirably.
The "Hoshun experience" is a whole lot for a whole lot. To be frank, you don't need that much to feel full and satisfied. At a certain point in my meal, the journey turned from light and cheery to satiated and gratuitous. Not to say that what the restaurant has achieved isn't impressive, it is. That flow between kaiseki and sushi on the menu worked in some areas and fell short in others.
I’ve said it during my impressions post on Instagram, and it still rings true here. Hoshun’s “light on taste, heavy on quality” approach is interesting and bold, but it is a gamble that I suspect may not necessarily be appreciated by local diners. Hoshun’s greatest strength is its air-flown produce and proteins. If you want to try the "Hoshun experience" menu for yourself, by all means, go ahead, but I suggest you keep your expectations in check. I suggest you try your hand at either entry-level menus (kaiseki and sushi) before attempting the full monty.